If I think back to the training, education and networking opportunities in my business intelligence and analytics career that have made the most difference, SAS user groups (SUG) stand out. As a new user to SAS many moons ago local, regional and international groups helped me develop skills that I could use immediately in my work. I don't believe that there are any other software vendors that have as passionate and as large a community of users willing to share expertise and real world examples.
Now that I'm a SAS employee, it can seem a little self-serving to discuss how powerful a user community can be within an organization. While user communities are great for the vendor, they're also a fantastic resource for the users themselves. In my prior role, I led the rollout of a SAS analytic environment to a new area of the organization (the software was already pervasive through other parts of the organization). I had approximately 50 new users and the vast majority had no SAS experience. The newest users attended some basic training classes, but new users generally need an additional helping hand when they start out. Plus, there are probably many things about your SAS environment that are unique to your organization. So I figured I would start a small internal user group to help people navigate this new frontier. After the first session, I reached out to the other SAS users in the organization - hosting a user group for 500 users is not that much more work than for 50.
Thus our internal SUG was born. Over the next year, I hosted a monthly meeting that was open to all SAS users regardless of their role (we had statisticians, report developers, programmers and administrators). Employees who were not currently using SAS, but were interested in analytic job opportunities were also encouraged to attend. The meeting format consisted of a one hour of content and an open hour for "ask the expert." Our topics ranged from anything from programming techniques, to SAS Enterprise Guide, to statistical methodologies. Meeting content, including a recording of the session as well as presentation materials, tutorials and code samples were made available on an internal SUG Sharepoint site.
During that year, I solicited feedback on the impact and benefits of the SUG, always looking for ways to grow and improve. Overwhelmingly, people appreciated targeted (and self-service) content that allowed them to learn on the job without having to be out of the office. More importantly, they enjoyed the cross-organizational networking opportunities. I probably enjoyed the opportunity more than most as the SUG's primary presenter, facilitator and hostess - I interacted with some amazingly talented internal and external experts, but more than anything I enjoyed working with new analysts and analysts-to-be.
SUGs don't have to be big and formal to make a difference. In your organization, holding "lunch and learn" sessions can be a great way to start sharing information. You'll not only maximize your internal intellectual capital, but ensure that you're effectively leveraging the investments you've made in our business intelligence and analytic technology platforms. SAS will even provide resources and support for your internal SUG, so don't be afraid to shout out if you need ideas or content or presenters. And hey, if you need a guest speaker, I'd love to pitch in.